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  The (Self-Proclaimed) Genius from the Empire  

Shortly after the armistice with the empire was signed, the High School Prodigies were busy getting ready for the currency issuance and the national elections.

Over in the Buchwald province, a merchant caravan heading toward the empire was attacked by a group of highwaymen.

When the region’s former lord and current provisional governor, Buchwald, heard what had happened, he immediately assembled a unit to deal with the outlaws and dispatched his force to the old fortress that the thieves were using as a hideout.

“There it is, right up ahead.”

At the end of the forest path, the Order of the Seven Luminaries’ members tasked with handling the bandits reached a gently sloping hill. Atop it sat an ancient stone garrison.

The structure was erected by a nation that fell long before the empire first claimed the territory.

“Thanks to the Seven Luminaries, people have it better than ever. You’d have to be a real scumbag to turn to banditry these days.”

“Maybe they’re nobles who’re afraid of getting purged?”

“Y’know, that might be it. I heard a couple of ’em tried something like that over in Gustav.”

“Cut the chatter. The merchants said the robbers had guns. We’re almost in firing range, and there’s no cover out here. Make sure to keep your shields at the ready.”

“Ha. I dunno what kinda weapons those guys have, but these babies from the Seven Luminaries will make ’em look like peashooters.”

“Yeah. The minute they stick their heads up, we’ll blow ’em full of holes.”

As they spoke, the fifty-odd soldiers sent to subdue the criminals readied their weapons. Each was equipped with one of the Seven Luminaries’ mass-produced bolt-action rifles.

The guns boasted unprecedented firing rates and ballistic stability because gunpowder was packed into the bullets themselves.

In a world where matchlock firearms were still commonplace, these armaments stood head and shoulders above the general level of technology.

Once, this group of men sent to quell the thieves had been a part of the imperial forces. The sheer difference in power between their current equipment and the matchlock guns they were accustomed to had them feeling giddy.

Their captain could hardly blame them, though.

Ultimately, bandits were nothing more than rowdy amateurs. They didn’t stand a chance against a trained military incursion.

Between that and the Seven Luminaries’ advanced weaponry, this was no battle the dispatched contingent was walking into. It was a hunt, and all they were doing was rounding up a few mangy strays. This simple errand would take no more than a few quick minutes.

As such, the captain thought there was no need to get worked up about it. Quickly ending things was best. However, a cry from somewhere above interrupted the captain’s thoughts.

“Hey, whoa! Slow down there, little rats! The hell you think you’re doing, skittering around someone’s house like that?!” cried a husky, grating voice that rolled down from somewhere atop the hill.

The captain squinted.

Roughly three hundred feet ahead were three people standing on top of the fortress’s ramparts.

It was the thieves.

The one shouting was a tall, lanky man leaning out over the wall with his foot perched atop it. His appearance gave off the impression of a lean, ragged wolf. By the looks of it, he was the group’s leader.

Having now received visual confirmation of their targets, the captain retrieved the Republic of Elm banner from one of his men and held it aloft as he shouted back, “We, the Order of the Seven Luminaries, serve the exalted God Akatsuki! I take it you’re the bandits who’ve been terrorizing the merchants in this area as of late!”

“And so what if we are?!”

“The Elm Provisional Government has a warrant out for your arrest! Throw down your weapons and surrender peacefully! If you resist, we won’t hesitate to shoot you down where you stand, and we’ll barely have to lift a finger to do so! Now, make your choice! Will you submit to the law, or would you rather die crawling on the ground like dogs?!”

A few warning shots rang out from among the assembled soldiers, as if to emphasize the captain’s ultimatum.

Entirely unperturbed, the bandit leader responded by laughing so hard his body shook.

“Ha-ha-ha! You hear that, boys?! They’re here to arrest us! What a joke! You bastards stole a whole damn country from Freyjagard, so what makes you any better than us?!”

“How dare you! That affront against the angels won’t stand!” the captain shouted back, indignant.

“Don’t go tryin’ to act tough on us. While you cowards were off double-crossing the empire, we’ve been out here surviving by ourselves. Now, why don’t you turn tail and run before we hafta tear you chumps a couple new puckered-up assholes!”

The man’s vulgar taunt earned a chorus of crude guffaws from his comrades.

“Lowlife scum…!”

The soldiers’ orders were to capture them alive “if possible.”

There was no need to offer the ruffians any further clemency.

And so the captain made his decision. “If you’re that determined to die a dog’s death, then we’ll happily oblige you!”

“Oh, someone’s gonna be dying, all right!”

Not a moment later, two holes formed in the front and the back of the captain’s head. Gray matter gushed out.

“ ”


His body slumped ungracefully onto the grass.

The troops were unable to make sense of their commanding officer’s sudden death.

“““Eat shit!!!!”””


Unfortunately, hardly a moment later, the front line of soldiers got mowed down by a hail of bullets from atop the ramparts.

Shot after shot rang out, and the fresh spring grass was stained with vivid splashes of red.

The soldiers panicked. As former imperial troops, they knew the capabilities of their world’s standard firearms.

Matchlock guns had an effective firing range of one hundred fifty feet. Striking a target in the head while they were three hundred feet away shouldn’t have been possible.

Even so, the deadly projectiles were claiming the soldiers’ lives in rapid succession. Their enemies had gotten the drop on them from a distance that far exceeded their expectations.

Just before the Seven Luminaries’ force broke formation and fled, their vice captain called out from the rearguard. “Shields up and out! Anybody who has one, gather at the front and form a wall!”

“““Yes sir!”””

As his voice cut crisply through the chaos, all the soldiers equipped with duralumin shields rushed to the front of the group to protect their allies.

However, the source of their confusion remained.

“Dammit, what the hell’s going on?! We shouldn’t be in matchlock range yet!”

The soldiers winced as bullets pummeled their shields.

Despite being the one who gave the order, the vice captain was just as perplexed as his charges. The enemy was raining lead on them with ease from over one hundred fifty feet away. He’d never heard of guns that could do that—except the Seven Luminaries’.

What’s more, the shots were coming without so much as a pause or break between them.

This doesn’t make any sense… The vice commander bit his lip in consternation.

“Ha-ha-ha! What’s wrong, dickheads?! We ain’t even done with the foreplay yet and you’re already losin’ steam! After all that big talk, you’re just gonna huddle up like little turtles?!”

The bandits’ crude laughter echoed down from the hill as discord and confusion ate away at the gathered troops.

While crass, the thieves had a point. Huddling up like that was only making the soldiers easier targets.

The vice captain issued his next set of orders. “Dammit… All right, maintain defensive formation and advance! Our guns may be better, but they have the advantage as long as they’re holed up in that fortress!”

“““Yes sir!”””

Those outfitted with shields did as instructed, working together to block attacks from both the front and overhead, safeguarding the riflemen behind them as the force slowly began making its way forward.

It was at times like these that their rigorous training was evident, for their defense was impeccable. Every last one of the bullets raining down on them bounced off their duralumin barriers.

All they had to do was march slowly toward the fortress, then blow its gate open with grenades. From there, they could storm the building and gain control from within. Yet right as the vice captain’s heart began to swell—

“Ha-ha! Didn’t anyone ever tell you there’s no point tryin’ to come inside if you’re gonna use that much protection?! Hey, boys, let’s give these limp dicks something to perk ’em up!”


—a deafening roar shook the air.

Every soldier on that hill recognized that sound, for they had heard it before countless times. It was like a gunshot, only hundreds of times deeper. There was no mistaking it.

Artillery fire…?!


The effect was immediate. In the blink of an eye, a full half of the company got blown to smithereens. The explosion sent scraps of shredded flesh flying through the air. It had come from a device sticking out over the rampart walls.

“They have a mortar!”

“How did a bunch of crooks get their hands on something like that?!”

None of the troops had ever heard of bandits using a mortar. What would thieves ever need with such a thing? It would blow up all the money they were after. If they were equipped with such a powerful weapon, it could only mean one thing.

These are no ordinary criminals! the vice captain realized.

After narrowly avoiding the mortar fire, he shouted an order to the other survivors. “Everyone, retreat! We’re falling back to the spriiiiiiing!!”

Their will to fight broken, the soldiers turned heel and fled as fast as they could.

“Ha-ha-ha! Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha!!!!”

The bandits jeered and mocked as they watched the routed soldiers beat their retreat.

“Why, if it isn’t an angel!”

“And Mr. Buchwald, to boot. What brings you two over to our oily little corner of the world?”

“Just a little business to attend to with Ringo.”

After the Order of the Seven Luminaries’ contingent was routed by the heavily armed bandits, former marquis Buchwald immediately sent word to the leader of Elm’s provisional government, Tsukasa Mikogami.

When Tsukasa heard the news, he turned to Ringo Oohoshi to gain a better understanding of the situation. At present, Ringo was in the new workshop she had built in Dulleskoff to analyze a certain something.

Tsukasa and Buchwald waited in the workshop’s break room for her to finish working.

After they shot the breeze with the workshop staff for a while, Ringo and her robot assistant, Bearabbit, appeared.

“Sorry…for the wait! And sorry…it took so long…”

“Not at all. If anything, I should be apologizing to you for interrupting while you’re so busy. So…what did you find when you inspected the bullets retrieved from our soldiers’ bodies?”

“S-sure enough…there were rifling marks.”

“So they do have rifles,” Tsukasa murmured. “I had my suspicions when I heard about the range they were firing from, but now we know for certain.”

Buchwald cut in. “Wh-when you say ‘rifles,’ you’re referring to the guns you Seven Luminaries produce with the, um, spirals inside the barrels, right? But then…how did a bunch of thieves get their hands on our guns?”

“That’s not…it…,” Ringo said, refuting Buchwald’s point. However, noticing Ringo’s poor oratory skills and general shyness, Bearabbit stepped in to elaborate on her behalf.

“The bullets we use in our rifles all have the exact same koalaties, but the lead balls we removed from our soldiers were the kind this world was using befur us.”

Buchwald’s eyes went wide. “N-now that you mention it, I remember Mr. Archride saying something about that back when we visited your arms factory—about how the imperial workshops had a gun with spiral grooves that could strike accurately even at long distances.”

Tsukasa nodded. “That’s right; we weren’t the first in this world to develop rifling. However, the empire shelved development on the technology due to cost issues and the fact that they wanted to prioritize upgrading their army from matchlock to flintlock guns instead. I imagine what the bandits had were imperial prototypes of some sort.”

“B-but shelved development or not, could a bunch of common bandits really get their hands on things like a mortar and weapons with cutting-edge imperial technology?”


Buchwald’s question made Tsukasa go silent.

As far as the young prime minister knew, those ruffians should never have been able to so much as glimpse such things. The imperial workshops were no less than the beating heart of the Freyjagard Empire’s military. Their prototypes weren’t the sort of thing common fugitives could just casually acquire. And more importantly…

The rifles aside, what do a bunch of mountain bandits need with a mortar?

Folks like them favored armaments designed for robbery, not destruction. It was hard to imagine them shelling out the kind of money a mortar would cost for a weapon that was liable to destroy the very things they were trying to steal.

Still, just because it was unlikely didn’t mean it was outright impossible. There were undoubtedly times when military surplus made its way into bandits’ hands. They might have merely acquired the mortar on a whim. It was certainly possible.

However, there’s also no shortage of nobles who don’t exactly hold Grandmaster Neuro’s peace treaty in high regard.

Knowing this, it was hard for Tsukasa to deny the possibility that this could be the work of an influential imperial noble arming the outlaws in the hope of causing discord between Elm and Freyjagard.

Tsukasa’s instincts as a prodigious politician told him that such a possibility was the clear frontrunner. If it was true, though, then it made things messy.

At the moment, the Republic of Elm was in the middle of a nationwide campaign to improve relations with the empire.

Even if this is the work of an imperial aristocrat, given the damage it would do to our relationship, I would just as soon avoid exposing that fact.

Was that dishonest? Perhaps. But the blind pursuit of the truth wasn’t what politics was all about.

No matter who the bandits had backing them, it was in Elm’s best interests to deal with the situation as if it were an isolated event. To that end, Tsukasa chose to dodge Buchwald’s question—

“Let’s set aside the issue of how the bandits sourced their weapons for the moment. We won’t know that for sure until we round them up and hear it from the horse’s mouth, after all. What we need to focus on is neutralizing them.”

—and instead turned the conversation to their immediate future.

“Under normal circumstances, I would prefer having the people of this world deal with the problem on their own, but the situation is a little too hairy for that. Not only did the robbers get their hands on some serious firepower, but they’re also holding an easily defensible position. Having the people of this world try to take it would cost a lot of lives. That’s where you come in, Bearabbit.”

“Fur what?”

“After Aoi, you’re the strongest combatant we have. I want you to clear the fortress. I recognize that it’s an overreach on our part, but this incident has already claimed more than its fair share of lives. I want to end things without any more casualties. Can I count on you?”

Bearabbit had no reason to turn down Tsukasa’s request. He was all too happy to help.

“Of course! It’ll bearly take me a—”

Yet the moment he tried to take on the task—


—a youthful, high-pitched soprano rocked every pair of ears in the break room.

When they turned to see who the earsplitting shout had come from, they discovered a short girl striking an imposing stance at the entrance to the break room. She gave Tsukasa a willful stare.

“I couldn’t help but overhear you, angel! And I must say, it vexes me you would write us off before even giving us a chance to prove ourselves! If all you need is a weapon that can mop fifty, even a hundred bandits, then while I can’t speak for the humdrum masses, a GENIUS like me can make you one, no problem!”

As she spoke, the girl puffed up her tiny chest. She was a bit younger than Tsukasa and the other Prodigies.

All the other people who worked for Ringo were older than twenty, making this girl the most juvenile by far. She had platinum-blond hair rolled up into curly drills, and a black ribbon sat atop her head.

“You’re one of the exchange students from the empire, aren’t you?” Tsukasa asked, recalling who the girl was.

“That’s me—Cranberry Diva, third daughter of Count Diva!”

The exchange student system was one of the methods that the Republic of Elm used to normalize relations between Elm and Freyjagard. The girl before them was one such scholar, there to learn about Elm’s advanced engineering techniques.

“Mr. Angel! I ask that you leave this situation to me, the BIG GENIUS widely rumored to be next in line to head up the imperial workshops! I was just hoping to get a chance to show off the knowledge and skills I’ve obtained in your fine country, so I don’t mind in the slightest!”

“Well, I did say I wished to have the people of this world deal with the problem on their own…”

Cranberry hyperventilated with excitement as she pressed forward, and Tsukasa found himself forced to recede a little as he spoke.

“C-Cranberry, that’s enough! Don’t go sticking your nose in where it doesn’t belong! If we just leave this to the angels, we get it all over with safely!” Buchwald chided. He had some familial relations with the Diva family. However, even his remonstrations weren’t enough to get Cranberry to back down.

“Boo! Don’t you believe in me, Unc? I am a GENIUS, remember. And I’ll have you know that there isn’t a machine in this workshop I haven’t mastered!”

Tsukasa found himself impressed by both her ego and her initiative. He quietly posed a question to her teacher, Bearabbit. “…Bearabbit, what’s your honest take on her abilities?”

“All the stuff about being the imperial workshops’ next head is pawsitively made-up. But she indeed learned how to use all the machines and tools here on her beary furst day. By her third, she dismantled one of the machine tools and put it back together just fine during her spare time. I had to put a paws on it when she tried to do the same to one of the steam engines, but when I made it up to her by showing her its blueprint and explaining the principles and mechanisms behind it, she got her bearings in no time. As fur as motivation and tailent go, she’s got everyone else in the workshop beat by a country mile.”

“You don’t say…,” Tsukasa muttered. Bearabbit seemed to hold a high opinion of Cranberry.

Tsukasa could say the same of his own student, Nio Harvey. The way the exchange students had come to a country that their nation had been at war with just a few weeks prior to absorb their knowledge and skills betrayed a level of scholarly passion that was nothing short of admirable.

Compared to the people of Elm, their zeal was on a whole different level.

…I suppose we’re primarily to blame for that.

Although doing so had been necessary to make up the difference in power between Elm and the empire, the Prodigies had given the people of Elm a little too much. It had robbed the denizens of their fervor. Tsukasa believed that had played a role in the failure to subjugate the bandits as well.

While it was true that the empire’s rifles put more primitive weapons to shame, even they were little more than toys compared to the Order of the Seven Luminaries’ bolt-action ones.

The Order’s defeat could certainly be attributed to the fact that they were caught off-guard by their enemies’ unforeseen firepower. Yet suppose they had just played things by the book and sent scouts out ahead to investigate their foes’ capabilities beforehand. In that case, their equipment should still have given them an insurmountable edge.

They lost because they were careless.

Blinded by hubris at the hitherto-unseen weaponry at their disposal, the soldiers had cut corners and skipped critical steps. It was an unacceptable blunder.

Tsukasa knew that the best way to avoid repeating that failure would be to offer the people as little help as possible.

What’s more, she’s from the empire.

Tsukasa pictured the way things would unfold.

If it turned out that an imperial noble really was supplying weapons to the bandits, then the Elm government would have no choice but to demand they be prosecuted, as anything less would be challenging to justify to the people of Elm. However, doing so would invariably cause damage to the tenuously amicable relationship between the two nations. That would be playing right into their enemy’s hands.

If another imperial aristocrat like Cranberry were the one to handle the situation, though, then that would muddy the waters considerably, giving Tsukasa a chance to settle the whole matter quietly. That was the best outcome he could hope for.

Covering up inconvenient truths was part of a politician’s job, too. Tsukasa’s choice was clear.

“Very well, Cranberry Diva. I leave the project in your hands.”

“Really?!” The girl lit up with excitement.

Tsukasa nodded. “Who knows what the thieves will do if we try to starve them out. If this new weapon of yours can deal catastrophic damage to their fortress in a single blow, it will doubtlessly send them into a panic. From there, we’ll be able to use that panic to storm the building before they know what hit them and thereby minimize our casualties. I want you to turn your intellect toward devising a method that will bring us to that outcome.”

“Hmm-hmm! With my brains, it’s a DONE DEAL!” Cranberry thumped her slim chest and exhaled excitedly through her nose.

“Now, if that’s all decided, I have a meeting to hold! Come along now, HUMDRUM MASSES! I will allow you to assist in my grand design!”

At some point, workers had assembled to see what all the fuss was about, and Cranberry loudly took charge of them as she strode out of the break room.

As the adult workers watched the child who seemed almost too small to contain her impudence go—

“Ha-ha! Glad to see you’re in high spirits as usual, young Cranberry!”

“Whatever you need, we’re happy to help!”

—they called after her with cheers of adulation.

Watching them, Tsukasa voiced an entirely reasonable statement.

“Given the way she acts, I’m surprised none of you find her annoying.”

The workers replied readily.

“Yeah, well, she pissed us off a bit at first, but…”

“After a while, we sorta got used to it.”

“Honestly, it’s kinda cute getting talked down to by a little girl.”

“To tell you the truth, I want her to step on me with those tiny feet of hers…”

“Interesting. It seems there’s an outbreak of degeneracy going around,” Tsukasa remarked.

He thought it best not to stick around for too long.

After seeing the workers off, Tsukasa turned his attention to another matter.

“…Say, Ringo?”


“Not to say I don’t trust her, but there are lives at stake here. If it becomes necessary, can I count on you to lend her a hand?”

“Yeah. Leave it…to me.”

Ringo clenched her tiny hand into a fist as she gave her assent. Then, she and Bearabbit hurried along after Cranberry.

“Let me start by laying the situation bear.”

After parting ways with Tsukasa and Buchwald, Ringo and her robot companion headed to the workshop’s conference room and shut the blinds. Once the chamber was dark, Bearabbit booted up one of his functions as he spoke.

Pale light streamed out of his primary display and projected an image onto the floor.

“Whoa, what’s that?!”

“This is what the furtress the bandits are bearicaded up in looks like from above—courtesy of God Akatsuki’s bearvoyance!”

The truth was that the image had been taken by satellite, but it benefitted the Seven Luminaries more to explain it as being part of Akatsuki’s divine power.

“God Akatsuki never fails to astound…”

“Praise be!”


Although the Prodigies weren’t deceiving people out of malice, Ringo still felt a little guilty as she saw the workers believe Bearabbit’s lie and gaze reverently at the image. She turned to look at it herself.

The picture projected on the floor started out as a flat overhead view of the fortress, but it soon began to rise thanks to Bearabbit’s processing powers. By including data gleaned through visual analysis of the building and surrounding topography, he displayed the area in three dimensions.

“Whoa! That’s wild!”

“This is a model of the stronghold we need to capture. It was built on top of a small hill, and it’s fortified by ramparts on all sides. With the Order of the Seven Luminbearies’ current equipment, defeating the bandits bearicaded inside would assuredly cost us lives. But if we had some way to take down the furtress’s beariers to bruin the bandits’ advantage, we could keep our sacrifices to a minimum. We want you all to pool your imaginations together and create a tool—a weapon—that can make that pawsible.”

The workers reacted to this request with consternation.

“W-wait, us…? That’s a pretty tough ask…”

“It’s taking all we have just to make the regular guns, let alone come up with something new.”

While Ringo stood among their timid ranks, she started thinking about what kind of tool would let them take the fortress without losing any soldiers.

The first thing that came to mind was a long-range missile strike.

With that, they’d be able to take down the castle from a safe distance.

Unfortunately, she was the only one present with the facilities and modern engineering knowledge required to pull that off.

To prevent that world from descending into a needless arms race, the Prodigies had decided not to publicize the manufacturing methods for TNT or other military-grade explosives. Instead, they passed them off as divine blessings. Most of the world was stuck with ordinary gunpowder. Presently, the only way to get huge amounts of firepower was to use similarly vast quantities of gunpowder.

The goal was to break the bandits’ will to fight in a single blow, so whatever the workers used needed to be at least strong enough to blow one of the bastion’s four walls to smithereens.

Such a task demanded ten full barrels of gunpowder, if not more.

Missiles did exist in this world, as Lakan had invented a gunpowder-packed “fire rocket.” Yet, despite their intimidating looks, their destructive and propulsive capabilities were both middling at best, so all they were really used for was psychological warfare. Getting such projectiles to ferry the payload necessary to destroy a fortified rampart was out of the question.

Imperial mages did have a technique where they strengthened gunpowder into “purified gunpowder,” which slightly amplified the thrust and power it generated. However, at the end of the day, it wasn’t much better. It couldn’t hold a candle to military-grade high explosives.

That sort of method just wasn’t going to be realistic.

They would need to look somewhere else.

“Hey, I got an idea! What if we just made a giant-ass cannon and blew the fort to kingdom come?!” The young byuma who’d voiced the suggestion spread his arms out wide. Sure enough, building a giant cannon to bomb the bastion was the next logical step.


“Nah, there’s no way. We don’t have the raw materials here to fabricate something like that.”

“Plus, it’d be way too expensive. We’re workin’ on a budget here, man.”

“And even if we built it, how’re we supposed to get it over there? The fortress ain’t exactly close by.”

—just as the others pointed out, that wasn’t a practical solution, either.

Earth actually had a monstrous cannon like that named Mons Meg. At thirteen feet long and twenty inches in diameter, the nearly seven-ton weapon was nothing short of a behemoth. Just as the workers had pointed out, it came with a laundry list of defects. Its weight made it unwieldy to move, it was difficult to aim, its accuracy was horrendous, and on top of all that, the massive amounts of gunpowder it used made its barrel so hot that it needed hours to cool down before it could be reloaded.

Even its awe-inspiring form served as a mark against it as well. If, by some miracle, the cannon struck its target the first time, the enemy would have fled by the time it was ready to be used again.

Constructing a massive cannon here would only be a repeat of Mons Meg’s sordid history on Earth.

Once the bandits fled, there would be nothing stopping them from preying on innocent people once more. Thus, any attack that didn’t get the job done right away was no good. The thieves needed to be neutralized quickly.

“Why don’t we just plant casks of gunpowder by the fort’s walls late at night and blow them up that way?” A different employee offered a suggestion this time, only to be laughed down by her coworkers.

“How’s that supposed to be a new weapon?”

However, Ringo didn’t join in the heckling.

It wasn’t a terrible suggestion.

All they’d been asked to do was come up with a way to destroy the castle. There was no particular reason they had to use a new armament to do so.

Compared to the prospect of building a massive cannon, the woman’s suggestion was far more reasonable. The only issue was the matter of geography.

Their target sat atop a hill. Getting to it meant climbing that mound.

All the trees around the fortress had been cleared, so there was no cover and nowhere to hide. Getting ten barrels’ worth of gunpowder up without being spotted simply wasn’t a realistic strategy.

Between this workshop’s equipment and what this world’s people know, I dunno if they’re up to the task…

Ringo knew how important it was to give the locals chances to grow. The Prodigies needed to avoid helping them any more than was absolutely necessary. She agreed with Tsukasa about all that. That didn’t make the decision to do so any easier, though. As Ringo watched the workers struggle, she felt more and more tempted to offer a hand. However, one person in the meeting paid Ringo’s concerns no heed.

“Flash! A light just went on in my head!” Cranberry, who had been staring silently at the projected model that whole time, suddenly let out a shout. “Heh, heh, heh. Wow, I really am a GENIUS. I just thought up a great new weapon as easily as if I were thinking up a menu for tomorrow’s breakfast. Sometimes my talents scare even me…!” She clutched her shoulders and trembled with an expression of utter ecstasy and delight.

“Fur real? You thought of something?” Bearabbit questioned her.

“But of course. The parameters for this mission are to deal a single crippling blow to the building such that it leaves our foes unwilling to fight.

“The angels’ Divine Lightning could do that with ease, but we lack the technology to launch a fire rocket with enough gunpowder loaded in it to destroy the wall. In other words, the true question this mission asks of us is: How can we get enough gunpowder to the top of the hill to blow the fortress open?

“Normally, our enemies would never allow us to pull off such a feat…but my GENIUS secret plan is anything but normal!”

Cranberry’s proclamation was met with enthusiastic responses from her colleagues.

“So what’s the plan?!”

“We’re on tenterhooks here!”

“Heh.” Cranberry’s nostrils flared out with pride. “We’re going to use a fire rocket.”


Everyone else tilted their heads in confusion.

“But wait—you just said it yourself. Fire rockets don’t have enough oomph to get the job done on their own, and they can’t carry gunpowder far enough to do ’em in that way. Hell, even the army only uses ’em to send signals and scare people off. I’m well aware of that, of course. But don’t you underestimate me. A GENIUS’s ideas are always one step ahead of the rest of her era!”

Cranberry turned her gaze from the other workers, who were all fired up at being told not to belittle her.

“I need to get CRACKING and go draw up the design. And arrange to have purified gunpowder sent over from the empire! And get in touch with the shipyard and have them assemble it! Ah, things are getting exciting now!”

She whirled around and started to run off.

However, Bearabbit hurriedly stopped her.

“H-hold on a minute! You have to tail us what your idea is!”

“Yeah, that’s right! Don’t go holding out on us, now!”

“If you tell us your plan, we might be able to help out!”


“No. As a citizen of the empire, I can’t go around telling other countries my secrets.”

—Cranberry refused their requests and gave her nationality as the reason.

“As a special favor, though, I’ll give you a detailed explanation on the day I unveil my creation. That should give you something to look forward to! You will forever remember the day you watched a proud noble change the face of siege warfare! Bwa-ha-ha!” With that, Cranberry flapped her arms like a pair of wings and rushed out of the room like a bird soaring through the sky.

“Aaand there she goes.”

“Feels like every time I see her, she’s always running off somewhere. It’s adorable.”

“And you know what? Good for her! Always nice to see kids in high spirits!”

When Cranberry got an idea, she didn’t hesitate to act on it.

Kind smiles spread across the workers’ faces as they watched the girl restlessly scurry about. They clearly regarded her as a mischievous child.

She had gathered the workers on a whim and abandoned them just as arbitrarily, but all of her colleagues were good-natured enough to take her capriciousness in stride.

“…Ringo, do you think Cranbeary can pull it off?”

Ringo answered quietly so only Bearabbit could hear. “I don’t know, but…”

Cranberry understood the situation’s parameters. With how confident she had sounded, she must have had some idea. Ringo couldn’t begin to imagine what it was, but when she saw Cranberry bubbling with more energy than it seemed possible for her petite body to contain, a thought had crossed her mind.

It looks like she’s having fun…

Ringo could definitely relate to that feeling. Whenever fresh inspiration came to her, she couldn’t help but want to implement it immediately. Her whole body heated up, and her emotions grew frantic.

By the looks of it, Cranberry was similar. She and Ringo probably had a lot in common.

“…Well, even if it doesn’t work, we’ll be there to make sure things don’t go too badly.”

“Fur sure.”

Perhaps Cranberry was going to show them something amazing. Maybe her ideas really were a step ahead of the rest of the era.

Soon Ringo would discover that that hunch of hers…was right on the money.

A week had passed since Cranberry took charge of building the weapon to oust the bandits.

In the interim, the criminals had been running wild over the region around their base.

For one, their counterattack on the punitive unit had left the area’s military understaffed. It took the army some time to rebuild their forces, so as a temporary measure, Tsukasa had chosen to evacuate all the civilians in the area. In short, there was nobody to stop the bandits from doing as they pleased.

To them, it must have seemed like an all-you-can-steal buffet of gold, livestock, and food. The unprecedented influx of wealth was making them downright giddy.

“Whew! Hot damn, this stuff goes down smooth! I’m tellin’ ya, this fancy expensive booze is somethin’ else. Bottoms up, boys! Not like we can’t afford more!”

The bandits’ lean, wolflike leader cheerfully pounded on the heap of coins piled up on their table.

His henchmen replied with cheers.

“Whoo! You’re the best, Boss!”

“Don’t mind if I do!”

“Buuurp! This is the life!”

“Ha-ha, you can say that again!”

The sun was still high in the sky, but they were busy filling their pockets with stolen money, their throats with stolen alcohol, and their bellies with stolen meat.

The crooks were on top of the world. And why wouldn’t they be when they could obtain such fabulous wealth while hardly lifting a finger? Plus, the gold and luxurious goods sitting before them weren’t the only things they had gained.

“But I gotta say, compared to how stingy the nobles who used to live around here were, the big shots down in the capital sure are a generous bunch. They gave us a fat payday and these sweet weapons, and all we had to do was a bit of easy stealing…!”

“This is supposed to be top-of-the-line stuff from the imperial workshops, right? You can’t even get your hands on normal-ass flintlocks unless you’re with the army takin’ over the New World for the emperor, and here we are with guns that have some processing that lets ’em shoot even farther. Headin’ abroad and selling these babies is gonna net us a fortune.”

“But wasn’t the deal that we were supposed to leave them behind once we finished running wild with them?”

“What’re you, a lawyer? We were never gonna follow no deal.”

“Yeah! Think of how pissed Ma’d be if we wasted a bunch of perfectly good weapons like that. Geh-heh-heh.”

Tsukasa had been right. These were no ordinary bandits. They were mercenaries sent by a party who would prefer that the peace between Elm and Freyjagard come to an end.

“Still, there’s something I don’t get.”

“Oh? And what’s that, my man?”

“No, it’s just… Elm was thrashing us in the war until Grandmaster Neuro managed to broker peace, so why do the nobles want us to go rile them up again?”

“Heh. That’s ’cause the empire ain’t all the same.

“For starters, Emperor Lindworm wasn’t the rightful successor. He took the throne by staging a coup d’état against the last emperor.

“And those Four Grandmasters headin’ up his government aren’t even imperial aristocrats. They’re just people who helped him take over.

“But see, the big shot nobles put a lot of work into suckin’ up to the old guard, so they were mighty pissed about the leadership changes.

“That’s why they’re tryin’ to rain on their parade.

“They want noble asses back in those grandmaster seats.

“And hey, who can blame ’em? Anyway, point is: That’s why they hired us.”

The bandit leader lifted up his rifled imperial prototype flintlock gun.

“Aside from Elm’s god or whatever, the only ones who’ve got the know-how to make weapons like these are Freyjagard’s imperial workshops. When Elm finds ’em lying around in our hideout, they’ll march straight over to the empire and demand answers. And when they do, that’ll mark the beginning of the end for the buddy-buddy mood the two countries got goin’ on.”

“Ohhh. So that’s why they wanted us to leave the guns behind when we bailed.”

“Wow, you’ve got those nobles all figured out! See, this is why you’re the boss!”

“Heh. Not that we give a rat’s ass about their schemes, mind you. We’re just here to take everything we can get our hands on. Our next target’s the village to the southwest. We’re gonna clean ’em out of everything worth takin’.”

“““Hell yeah!”””

The henchmen cheered and clinked their tankards together.

But right when their festivities reached a climax—

“Hey, Boss! We got a problem!”

—the grunt on lookout duty rushed into the room with his face white as a sheet.

“Huh? What’s wrong?”

“Those Elm guys are at the bottom of the hill, and they’ve got something real weird with ’em!”

“Whaddaya mean? Weird how? Use your damn words.”

“It’s, um… It’s weeeeeird, man; I dunno how else to describe it.”

“Damn, you’re useless. If anything’s weird here, it’s your brain. Way to ruin our party, Dumbass.”

The leader gave the lookout a small thump on the head with his tankard, then pushed him aside and made for the ramparts.

“All right, let’s see what they’ve—”

Before the leader could finish, he looked down over the wall—and let out a dumbfounded whisper.

“…The hell is that thing?”

“What is that…?”

“It’s huge!”

“Is this what they were cookin’ up in the Dulleskoff workshop?!”

The Elm delegation was about seven hundred feet from the bandits’ hideout.

All of them, workshop employees and Order of the Seven Luminaries soldiers alike, looked in awe at the device that rose into the blue sky.

Cranberry’s weapon, which she had transported there via oxcart, was downright majestic.

They couldn’t believe how bizarre it appeared or how massive the thing was. With wheels that were thirty feet in diameter, it was a sight to behold.

Is that…? Ringo was struck speechless.

Is that what I think it is? Fur real? Beside her, Bearabbit was no different.

However, their shock was of a whole different sort than the locals’. They both knew of an old Earth weapon that bore a striking resemblance to Cranberry’s invention. This planet was still in the relative equivalent of Earth’s Middle Ages, though, so it seemed impossible to behold a weapon that hadn’t been invented until World War II.

Ringo and Bearabbit at first discounted the resemblance as only superficial. There was no way it could really be what they suspected. Right?

Cranberry spoke proudly, oblivious to Ringo’s cold sweating.

“Ha-ha! Behold, the revolutionary new weapon crafted by the GENIUS mind of yours truly!

“As you all know, fire rockets are sorely lacking when it comes to destructive power. For them to fly through the air, their weight needs to be kept to a minimum, so there’s a limit to how much gunpowder they can carry. So what do we do? Why, it’s simple! We just don’t launch them into the air at all!”

She gave one of the massive wheels that made up the giant thing’s body a thump.

“By installing twenty fire rockets on each wheel and forty rockets in total, their propulsive power combines to allow delivery of a gigantic, unmanned explosive payload! This is a siege weapon that stands a step ahead of its era, concocted by what will someday be recognized as the finest mind in the empire! I call it—the Great Panjandrum!!”

It really is the Panjandrum!

I can bearly believe it!

Ringo’s face went pale, and a large WARNING sign began flashing on Bearabbit’s monitor.

Cranberry’s humongous ox-driven weapon had a sizeable bomb loaded into its middle and was fashioned with a rocket-laden wheel on each side. It looked like a bobbin from a sewing machine, and just as the two had surmised from its appearance, it was precisely the same sort of armament that Britain had devised during World War II.

Cranberry had done exactly as Ringo predicted. She had crafted a tool far beyond the knowledge of her time.

That isn’t just a step ahead of its era, it’s centuries ahead…but still!

So then, why was Ringo so terrified? The answer was quite simple.

Back on Earth, the Panjandrum was famous for being one of the most disastrous creations ever devised.

The mechanisms behind it were hardly complicated.

When you set off the rockets, their propulsive power made the wheels turn, causing the Panjandrum to barrel forward at speeds of over sixty miles per hour. Upon impact with a target, the large bomb strapped to its center would detonate, causing the enemy’s pillbox or trench to go up in smoke. It was basically an overland naval mine.

On paper, it was (supposedly) both highly efficient and extremely practical.

Back on Earth, Britain hoped that it would serve as a trump card that would let them break through the German fortifications during the Normandy landings while keeping friendly casualties to a minimum, and they expended a tremendous amount of money trying to develop it.

However, it wasn’t long before they ran into trouble. Whenever they tested a prototype, even the slightest bumps in its path would cause it to start going in circles.

Furthermore, it became clear that if the thrust from the rockets on each side wasn’t equal, the Panjandrum would veer from its target and trundle off into the night.

The British did their level best to try to straighten out their new problem child, of course. Regrettably, every improvement they made in hopes of getting the Panjandrum ready failed.

On a fundamental level, its design necessitated that its wheels travel along the ground. Hence, no matter how hard any engineer tried, they were never able to fix its incompatibility with rough terrain.

After more mishaps than they could count, the British started coming up with truly pigheaded solutions, like having a soldier run ahead and spread a carpet all the way up to the enemy’s pillbox for the Panjandrum to travel across—a fix that defeated the very purpose of using an unmanned explosive. It was around then that they finally returned to their senses and shelved the misguided invention for good.

Such was the heroic tale of Earth’s Panjandrum.

The story of this ill-fated contraption left some wondering why anyone would ever think to roll a bomb. Rockets existed, so it seemed more prudent to have a missile ferry the bomb instead. Such notions were perfectly valid.

However, cheese wheels roll. Stones roll. Perhaps the Brits thought it was only natural that bombs should be able to roll as well.

Another theory is that the Panjandrum wasn’t a weapon at all, but a flaming chariot youkai from Japan that went to Britain by accident, but it was unclear if that theory held any water.


“If she tries to use that, there’s no tailing how grizzly things will get…!”


“P-pawger that! I’ll go tell her that it won’t work!”

Ringo signaled Bearabbit with her eyes, and Bearabbit rushed over to try to stop Cranberry. However—

“Cranbeary, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news after you put in all that work, but—”

“Hey, I get it! By attaching the fire rockets to the wheels, it makes ’em all sorta go in the same direction!”

“It can totally carry that bomb now!”

“What a stoke of brilliance, thinking of using the fire rockets like that…!”

“And because the whole weapon rolls, it’s easy to transport, too!”

“Heh-heh. You HUMDRUM MASSES might be soft in the head, but not me. Now, if you finally understand the magnificence of the soon-to-be head of the imperial workshops, you can show your reverence by calling me Professor!”

“Whoa! You’re the best, Professor!”

“You wear a shit-eating grin like nobody else can, Professor!”

“So smug! So cute! So Professor!”

Ringo’s and Bearabbit’s objections went unnoticed. The Panjandrum’s design was very easy to comprehend, and it quickly earned the workers’ and soldiers’ approval. They showered its inventor with wholehearted applause.

“Th-they all seem so excited that I can bearly bring myself to bruin it for them…!”


Bearabbit was right. It was hard to tell them the Panjandrum was defective when the mood was that exultant. Ringo was shy to begin with, so that went double for her.

Yet between workshop staff and soldiers, there were nearly fifty people present.

If the Panjandrum went out of control, people could die.

The weapon itself might have been a joke, but its ability to kill was anything but.

Knowing that—


—Ringo let out a cry using every last drop of air in her lungs.

Seeing as the exclamation came from a girl who often remained quiet, many of those gathered turned to see what was happening.

“Now then, time to show the world just how magnificent the Panjandrum really is!” Cranberry declared, earning another round of applause.


Ringo’s voice had failed to reach the girl in time. Cranberry cut the rope connecting the Panjandrum to the oxcart.

Having lost its support, the Panjandrum slowly began rolling down the gentle slope in front of them. When it did, the cords attached to the fire rockets in its wheels were ripped out, and the friction caused an immediate reaction with the purified gunpowder contained in the missiles. Sparks and smoke began gushing from all forty of them.

“Thar she blows!”

“They’re probably quaking in their boots just looking at it!”

“Feels like it’s moving kinda slow, though, doesn’t it?”

The workers tilted their heads as they watched the Panjandrum plod languidly along.

“The BOORISH RABBLE are quick to jump to conclusions, I see.” Cranberry dismissed their concerns. “Just like a millstone, it needs a lot of torque to get moving at first, but once it gets going—it goes!”

The words had barely left Cranberry’s mouth when the momentum the Panjandrum had built up on the small decline began paying off. Flames spurted from its rockets as it accelerated forward at a blistering clip. Even once it started making its way up the slope toward the bandits’ stronghold, it didn’t slow for a moment. If anything, it sped up even more.

“D-damn, that thing can move!”

“It’s shooting off fire and barreling up that hill like it’s nothing!”

“That’s thanks to its meticulous lightweight design and the purified gunpowder straight from the imperial workshops! A mound like that is a mere molehill before my Panjandrum! Soldiery types, get yourselves ready to storm the building!”

“““Yes ma’am!”””

The Seven Luminaries forces followed Cranberry’s orders and rushed after the Panjandrum, which by that point had become a bona fide horror of smoke and conflagration.

Faced with such a terrifying sight, the thieves—


“I-it’s a monster! The wheel monster’s coming for us!”

—completely panicked.

It was hard to blame them. After all, there was a pair of wheels thirty feet in diameter spewing crimson and barreling toward them like a raging bull. Even without knowing what the weapon was capable of, it was so menacing that it almost didn’t matter.

“Dunno what that thing is, but it looks like bad news…! Mortar it down!”

“Can’t! That contraption’s too fast! There’s no time to load!”


The bandit leader clicked his tongue at his flustered men, then leaned out over the rampart wall himself and fired at the Panjandrum with his flintlock rifle.

His subordinates followed his lead, taking aim and shooting at the mobile bomb racing up the hill toward them. To something as massive as Cranberry’s Panjandrum, though, their bullets were no more than pebbles.

“It’s useless! Useless! Useless! You think my craftsmanship is so shoddy I’d let a measly bullet or two blow it up?!”

The explosive at the center of Cranberry’s Panjandrum was enclosed in a double-layered iron case. Small external shocks couldn’t detonate it. The Panjandrum wasn’t going to burst until it hit the fortress walls.

Among the onlookers, none were more astonished by the weapon’s performance than Ringo and Bearabbit.

“R-Ringo… I can bearly believe it myself, but is this going to work?!”

“I-it might… I’m just as surprised as you are…”

Things were going far better than either of them could have possibly expected.

As the two thought, they recalled that the Panjandrum’s weakness to unstable terrain had only been a problem back on Earth because the British had wanted to use it on the wet, sandy beaches of Normandy.

Any pair of wheels could end up spinning wildly in an environment like that. Perhaps Ringo and Bearabbit were witnessing the failed experiment’s redemption?

No sooner did Ringo begin to hope than disaster struck. A stray shot from one of the bandits hit a rocket coupled to one of the wheels by sheer chance. The impact detonated the thing’s gunpowder—


“Hey, wait, it’s turning away from the—”

—and the whole wheel sprung up into the air, throwing off the Panjandrum’s delicate balance. It swiveled away from its fortress target as though suffering a change of heart.


Ah, there it is.

Paw, there it is.

Then the Panjandrum made a beautiful U-turn and charged back down the hill toward its former allies, picking up speed as it went.

A freak accident? Maybe. But for Ringo and Bearabbit, this was what they’d been anticipating from the start.

After all, one of the most famous stories about the Panjandrum detailed how a group of British officers came to observe one of its test runs, only to have it turn and charge right at them. Barreling off in the wrong direction was in its nature; Britain was the homeland of British Invasion music, and the nation’s child, the Panjandrum, was a rebel through and through.

Hoping that something like that would follow orders was just asking for trouble.

As one saying went, it wasn’t over until the fat lady sang. And as another described, it wasn’t over until the Panjandrum royally screwed everything up.

If anything, the scene unfolding was simply order returning to the universe. It filled Ringo and Bearabbit with a strange sense of relief. The workshop employees and soldiers who had been following the bomb up the hill did not have the benefit of this context, however. So instead, they simply screamed.

“Everyone, fall baaaack! It’s going to run us over!”


“Hey, Professor! What’s the big idea?!”

“It’s gonna blow us up!”

“Everyone, calm yourselves!!”

As the workers and soldiers panicked, the Panjandrum’s inventor, Cranberry, spoke in a dignified tone.

“If you just follow my GENIUS orders, everything will be fine! Now, calm yourselves!”

“I knew you wouldn’t let us down, Professor!”

“So cute! So reliable!”

“What do we do?!”

“Why, it’s simple! We just c-c-c-calm—calm down, then let it pass over us! If we all dig together, we’ll make it in time!”

“Oh no, she’s lost it!”

“Noooo! Professor, why?! Right when we needed you most!”

“I gotta say, though, she looks super adorable shoveling through the dirt like that!”

“She totally does, but more importantly, ruuuuun!”

Cranberry’s eyes spun as she scraped away at the ground with her little hands, and everyone else took that as their cue to flee from the oncoming horror.

Amid the terror, Ringo and Bearabbit stayed put.


“Pawger that! Firing resonance bolt!”

On Ringo’s orders, Bearabbit launched an eight-inch-long stake out of the large backpack that comprised his body. The thing burrowed into the ground in front of the Panjandrum and the billowing cloud of dust it was kicking up.

Immediately, all the byuma present contorted their faces in pain. It was like someone had just stabbed needles in their eardrums.

They looked at Bearabbit’s stake, and to their surprise—

“Huh?! The ground’s…sinking?!”

—they found a huge sandy pit forming on the verdant hill.

That had been caused by a resonance bolt, one of the many tools Bearabbit had at his disposal. Ringo had invented the object to demolish earth and bedrock using powerful vibrations.

Due to how handy the resonance bolts were for excavation work in spaces where the differences in atmospheric pressure made traditional explosives harder to use, they were known back on Earth as Moon Moles.

Bearabbit had used one to cave in a large section of the ground right in the Panjandrum’s path.

Unable to turn on its own volition, the Panjandrum drove directly into the trap. Then it stopped in its tracks.

Such an outcome was unavoidable.

Despite being equipped with rockets, the Panjandrum ultimately derived its propulsion from its frictional resistance with the ground.

Now that its footing had been reduced to a fine powder, and it had no way to get a decent grip, its flame-spewing wheel merely spun in place.

Unable to move forward, the ill-fated contraption sank deeper and deeper into the sandy pit’s grasp, the weight of its gunpowder pulling it down.

Eventually, its rockets burned through the last of their fuel, and the Panjandrum came to a stop.

“I-it’s over…”

“We’re saved…!”

The workers and soldiers collapsed to the ground with relief.

Off in the distance, they could hear the bandits’ jeers.

“Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! What a hoot! The hell you guys doin’ over there?! I mean, it takes a special breed of dumbass to nearly get run over by their own damn weapon. This is what happens when you try to take the easy way out, numbnuts!”

“Ga-ha-ha-ha! What a bunch of losers!”

“……!” Cranberry’s slender shoulders trembled at their mockery.

Poor thing…, thought Ringo.

Cranberry was still down on all fours with her head hung. Worried, Ringo wanted to offer her some compassionate words, but she never got the chance.

“Boss, the mortar’s ready to go!”

“That’s what I like to hear. Let’s give those know-it-all dimwits a little taste of what war is like.”

A projectile came jutting out over the top of the ramparts.

Ringo and Bearabbit immediately realized the danger they were in.

If one of those shells hit the Panjandrum’s payload, they could all go up in smoke.

Bearabbit grabbed Ringo with his manipulator arms, tossed her on his back—

“E-everyone, fall back to the town! I’ll retrieve the new weapon later, so fur now, just turn tail and run!”

—and urged the others to take shelter.

“G-got it!”

The workers nodded, and one of them grabbed Cranberry’s arm and tried to help her up.

“Come on, Cranberry! We need to get out of here!”


However, Cranberry shook the woman’s hand right off. Then she got up on her own and ran toward the town. It was hardly an admirable way to respond to her coworker’s concern. Still, no one thought worse of her for it. During the brief moment she turned around and looked back, they had all seen her face.

“She was crying, wasn’t she…?”

Cranberry’s eyes were wet, her face was flushed, and her eyebrows were drooping in defeat. The girl looked ready to break at the slightest touch.

“Makes sense. She’s got skills, but she’s just a kid. The poor thing was probably scared stiff!”

“Worry about that later and run!”

It wouldn’t be fair of the workshop employees or the soldiers to expect a child to control her emotions. As adults, it was their job to forgive her.


Ringo watched Cranberry dash ahead with an entirely different sentiment, though.

In order to escape the runaway Panjandrum and any possible pursuit from the bandits, Ringo and the others fled all the way to a nearby town.

With Bearabbit manning the rear and intercepting any mortar fire from the bandits, everyone made it out with minor injuries. It was only when the immediate danger had passed that someone realized an important person was missing.

“Huh? Wait, where’s Cranberry?”

At some point, Cranberry Diva had disappeared.

“M-maybe she fell behind…?!”

“Nah, that ain’t it. She was still up in front of us when we came through the town gate.”

“Perhaps she didn’t know where we were staying and got lost or something.”

“That could be it…or maybe she’s so embarrassed her experiment went south that she doesn’t want to face us.”

“C’mon, she should know that none of us hold it against her…”

As the workers stood in front of the inn fretting about Cranberry, Bearabbit approached them.

“If you want, I can—”

He was about to offer to use his divine gift, his satellite imaging, to track her down.

“Bearabbit…” Ringo, who was standing beside the robot, cut him off, though.


“W-we should all go search for her. We gotta find Cranberry before the sun goes down.”

“Yeah, that’s right. Don’t want to leave a kid alone in a strange town.”

“Let’s split up and find her!”

Before Bearabbit had a chance to finish making his offer, the workshop staff all went off in different directions, looking for their missing coworker.

Bearabbit turned to Ringo in the now-deserted area in front of the inn. “Ringo, why’d you stop me? With our satellite, I could have found Cranberry’s pawsition in no time.”

He was right. There was no need to have everyone split up and hunt for her on foot. Obviously, Ringo knew that the satellite could resolve this in mere moments, and she had an answer to Bearabbit’s reasonable inquiry.

“If it were me… I wouldn’t want to see the others right now.”

However, Ringo also understood that Cranberry’s colleagues had misunderstood. They thought she had gotten lost because she was a child. Everyone had assumed her screwup left her too embarrassed to show her face.

Ringo knew that Cranberry wasn’t nearly as much of a kid as the others believed. The genius inventor turned to Bearabbit with a serious look in her eyes.

“Tell me where she is.”


As the workshop staff scoured the town, Cranberry hid behind a row of empty wine barrels in a back alley a little ways from the inn and choked back tears.

She had made a terrible error. After all that boasting, things had gone awry. Worst of all…Cranberry had endangered everyone.

If Ringo the angel and Bearabbit hadn’t been there to bail her out, there was no telling how bad things could have gone.

The workshop staff was probably livid with her. Surely, they had to be thinking that none of this would’ve happened if Cranberry hadn’t gotten so full of herself. Imagining how her colleagues saw her filled the girl with fear. She didn’t dare face them.

Suddenly, the melancholy girl heard someone.



“You’re…back here…right?”

Cranberry turned toward the large barrel behind her. Someone was calling to her from the road. The voice belonged to a girl, but it was unfamiliar. It didn’t belong to any of Cranberry’s coworkers. However, the fact that the girl was looking for Cranberry meant she must have had some connection to her.

Not ready to face the music yet, Cranberry devised an idea to throw off her pursuer.


She tried getting her to leave her alone by pretending to be a cat.

It was a stunningly good impression, unfortunately—

“Oh, a kitty.  ”

—the mimicry only brought the person closer.

I-it backfired!

Cranberry panicked and started to stand, hoping to make a run for it, but it was already too late.

When the speaker—Ringo Oohoshi, one of the Seven Luminaries’ angels and the head of the Elm workshops—popped her head up over the barrel and found Cranberry hiding there, a brief flash of disappointment crossed her face at not having discovered a cat. She quickly corrected her expression, though, giving Cranberry a gentle smile.

“…You’re a pretty big kitty.”


Cranberry rose to her feet. Thoroughly embarrassed after being discovered in such a manner, she made up her mind to flee. The plan was to slip past Ringo and escape down the road. However, the moment she leaned forward—

“If you go out now…the others…will find you.”

“ !”

“They’re worried…about you…so they’re all…out looking.”

—Ringo gave her a quiet warning.

Cranberry stood still for a moment and finally heard the voices of those searching for her. They weren’t far. If she’d left the alley, she might very well have crashed right into them. Running would do her no good now.

“I-I’m really sorry about all this. I’ll come with you in a minute…”

“It’s fine…if you’re not…ready yet. Really.”


Cranberry was shocked to hear that. If Ringo hadn’t come to retrieve her, then what was she doing here?

As Cranberry considered that question in puzzlement, Ringo took advantage of her slight frame to slip behind the barrel and slide down next to the other girl. She opened up the thermos hanging from her shoulder. Then she poured some of the steamy beverage from within into a cup and offered it to Cranberry.

“Would you…like some? It’s milk coffee…with lots of sugar. Drinking it…always helps me compose myself when I’m feeling down.”

“…Th-thank you.”

Cranberry took the steaming coffee. The girl didn’t even want it all that much, but she did so on reflex. A sad, silent laugh escaped her lips. Even she could tell that she wasn’t thinking straight. However, Cranberry knew that it would be far too rude to give the drink back at this point.

She sipped the coffee.

It was a little hot, but it was sweet, too. Cranberry had heard of this new beverage brought over from the New World, but she’d never imagined it was something so tasty.

Its taste slowly but surely warmed her pained heart.

“…I’m pathetic, aren’t I? After all that boasting, I screwed up and put everyone in danger… And then, to top it all off, I got so scared of getting blamed for my mistake that I ran off. I’ve been acting like a child.”

When someone felt truly cornered, they didn’t have the focus to complain like that. Cranberry probably had the milk coffee to thank for her being collected enough to be self-deprecating.

Ringo had something to say about that, though.

“…That’s not…it, is it?”


“You’re not scared of getting blamed for your mistake. You’re frightened they’ll forgive you because they think of you as a child.”


The statement took Cranberry’s breath away. Ringo had hit the nail on the head. Cranberry would have been fine with taking responsibility for her failure as an inventor.


“…You’re totally right, Ms. Angel. I came here to learn about engineering as a representative of the empire. I can’t let them look down on me like that!”

The exchange student program was highly competitive. For every person who got in, there were a hundred more who hadn’t. Those were the kinds of odds that Cranberry had overcome to get where she was.

As one of the empire’s few representatives, her country’s future depended on her ability to learn about the angels’ strange technology and bring that knowledge back with her. There was a tremendous amount of responsibility resting on her small shoulders. That was why she couldn’t let them make light of her or think of her as immature.

If others looked down on her and excluded her from projects because of her age, then she wouldn’t be able to fulfill her duty. Cranberry had beaten out plenty of adults to win her spot in the exchange program, so she needed to be able to stand on the same level they would have.

That was why she had tried so incessantly to play up how brilliant she was. In the world of adults, her age was an obstacle that needed to be overcome. Unfortunately, none of her coworkers had appreciated that. They’d remained ignorant of her responsibilities, of the struggle of being a child who had to stand shoulder to shoulder with adults.

Undoubtedly, Cranberry’s colleagues would forgive her. They would tell her not to worry about it and assure her that it was natural for kids to screw up. Cranberry knew all that. And that was why she ran away. It was her only choice.

When Cranberry thought about hearing those cruel words, it hurt so bad it made her want to cry.

“…I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. It makes sense that someone like you can read people’s minds.”

Ringo shook her head. “I can’t…do anything like that. I was just…in a similar situation…myself.”

“You were…?”

Ringo nodded, then began awkwardly explaining.

She told Cranberry about how she had been a manufactured genius. While the other girl listened intently, Ringo recounted her receiving special teachings from her mother and how she had worked as a researcher in world-class laboratories from a young age. Thankfully, Ringo made sure to leave enough details fuzzy so it wouldn’t call her identity as an angel into question.

Just like Cranberry, Ringo had been thrust into the world of adults as a kid. Although America, the country she spent much of her childhood in, had accepted her genius with open arms, that didn’t change the fact that, wherever she went, she was always the youngest person around.

Ringo could remember all too well what it was like not to have any friends her own age and to constantly push herself to avoid sullying her influential mother’s name. She had been smart enough to recognize how her own failures reflected on others.

“So I know how it feels…to think you have to push yourself… And how much…it hurts…when you screw up…”

“…That’s quite a surprise.” Cranberry made no efforts to conceal her shock at Ringo’s confession.

Ringo and the other angels may have looked human, but due to how otherworldly their technology was, Cranberry had always assumed they were some sort of enlightened beings. She never considered that they could struggle the same ways humans could. Yet since they did…there was something Cranberry needed to know.

“So um, Ms. Angel…what did you do? How did you recover when you messed up something important and felt scared to go back because everyone else thought you were just a kid playing around?”

“I…” Ringo had to think for a minute before answering. “I’m…sorry. I don’t really…know.”


“I did…pretty much the same thing…you did. When I made mistakes…I would get miserable…and hide from everyone and drink coffee like this…and space out… But then I would always stumble upon some new idea I wanted to try out, and before long, that would be the only thing I could think about… Before I knew it, I was back in the lab researching. I just really like…making things.”

People had treated Ringo like a kid, mocked her, and said terrible things to her throughout her life. However, once that switch inside her flipped, none of that bothered her anymore. Once inspiration took hold, all she thought about was realizing her new idea.

Over time, those around her started changing. At some point, all the adults stopped seeing Ringo as the mere child she appeared to be. When her coworkers looked at her then, they did so with gazes full of envy, awe, and respect. Even so, Ringo couldn’t point to a single moment that sparked that change.

“So like…I said… I genuinely don’t know,” Ringo said apologetically. She didn’t have the quick fix that Cranberry was looking for that would get her right back on her feet.

Near as Ringo could figure, every time she was down, she eventually got engrossed in work again. Before long, she was back in her lab and had forgotten about her troubles.

“I’m…sorry. I wish I could give you…better advice, but…I’m kind of clueless…about everything except my work…”

If Ringo were Tsukasa or Masato, perhaps she may have given Cranberry fantastic instructions on how to manage her interpersonal relationships, yet she wasn’t. The genius inventor looked down in shame. Running to help because she saw a younger employee who suffered as she once had was noble, but it didn’t count for much without any decent advice to give.

Yet astonishingly—

“Not at all. That was very educational.”

—Cranberry thanked Ringo.

Somehow, her voice sounded more stalwart than it had a moment ago. Surprised by the change, Ringo took a peek at Cranberry’s face. All the gloom from just before had vanished.

“…I realize now that my responsibilities made me pay a little too much attention to how people saw me. After all, I am twelve, so it only makes sense that they would treat me like a kid. Still, it was laughably foolish of me to let their evaluations cause me to doubt my skills. Besides…I already overcame droves of the empire’s best and brightest just getting here!”

That success alone was proof of Cranberry’s intelligence. And with that feather in her cap, what could she possibly have to fear? People might mock her and call her a child or laugh at her mistakes. But as long as Cranberry believed in her ideas and treated her brilliance as a foregone conclusion…

“…Then in time, people will stop treating me like a juvenile all on their own!” proclaimed Cranberry as she stood. “Now, back to the inn! It’s an inventor’s job to forge a miracle out of the towering scrap heap of their mistakes, so I don’t have a minute to waste dawdling here!”

“You’re…okay?” Ringo was concerned that Cranberry was just putting on a brave face, but the girl replied by flashing her the V for victory hand sign and beaming from ear to ear.

“Of course I am; I’m a GENIUS! The word impossible isn’t even in my vocabulary!”

When Ringo saw Cranberry’s unreserved smile, she breathed a small sigh of relief. “Glad…to hear it.”

Things hadn’t played out quite the way Cranberry had expected, but the fact remained that the Panjandrum was a weapon of the future. There was no doubt in Ringo’s mind that anyone who could not only think up such a device in this more primitive era, but build it to completion in a mere week, would prove to be an invaluable asset to that world.

Someday, once the Prodigies were gone, Cranberry might well be the one driving this world to industrial greatness.

The truth of the matter was: The seven high schoolers from Earth had given the people a little too much advanced technology, even though doing so had been necessary for the new nation to win its independence. Tsukasa was worried about how far ahead of its neighbors Elm was, and Ringo shared his concerns.

If other countries were going to bridge that gap, they couldn’t let themselves give up after a single minor setback. Doing so would be a crying shame. That was why Ringo felt relieved that Cranberry was back in high spirits. However, nothing could have prepared her for the girl’s proud follow-up.

“And because it was conceived of by a GENIUS mind, it stands to reason that the Panjandrum must be an amazing weapon after all!”


“There are still some kinks to work out, of course, and we ran into some bad luck this time around, but the Panjandrum has yet to show off its true power! All it needs is a little elbow grease and ingenuity!”

“No, I really don’t…think that’s—”

“WHOOOOOA! I figured it out! I suddenly came up with the idea that will turn bitter failure into brilliant success! I—I have to get back! I’ve got a long, tea-fueled night ahead of me!”

“H-hold on a—” Panicking, Ringo tried to stop Cranberry, but just as she herself had pointed out, the two had a lot in common. That included the part about not paying attention to anything else once an idea popped into their minds.

As Cranberry was now, Ringo’s quiet voice had no chance of stopping her. The girl rushed out of the alleyway and raced toward the inn with her arms extended like wings. Although Ringo was glad that Cranberry had rediscovered her confidence, she hadn’t expected it to take such a dramatic turn.

In a way, Cranberry almost resembled the Panjandrum herself.

For some reason, Ringo felt a vague unease nip at her heart. Perhaps she ought not to have said all she had. It may have only succeeded in throwing oil on the fire. A lukewarm sweat trickled down her back at the thought.

And a mere five days later…

…Ringo’s premonition came true.


A roar loud enough to shake a mountain rose to the sky above Buchwald province, accompanied by a raucous chorus of bandit screams.

Black smoke billowed up from the ravaged fortress, and the Elm soldiers poured into the wreckage and subdued the panicked outlaws with ease.

At first, one may have thought that Bearabbit was responsible for this, but that was incorrect. Believe it or not, it was the Panjandrum.

“Ringo, that was…”

“Yeah… She used a winch…”

After watching the whole thing play out, Ringo and Bearabbit were sure of it.

A winch was a rotating drum that wound a rope, and there were two primary ways to employ it. One was to fix the winch in place, and the other was to set the rope.

Both options had their purposes. For instance, the former was often used when anchoring seacraft, and the latter was handy for getting off-road trucks over and around obstacles by affixing the other end of the winch to a tree or something similar.

Cranberry had adopted the second method.

She had constructed a new Panjandrum even lighter than the original prototype, and after using a massive siege ballista to fire an anchor at the fortress, she had set it up so that the Panjandrum’s independent propulsion wound up the long rope attached to the anchor. No matter how hard it tried to abandon its course, the winding process meant that it would eventually make its way to the target at the end of its rope.

Thanks to Cranberry’s superior technical skills, the field test went off without a hitch. Even though the Panjandrum fell onto its side partway up the hill, the wound rope’s strength got it to the finish line anyway. Once there, it successfully blasted the old bastion’s ramparts to smithereens.

“Ha-ha-ha! How do you like them apples?! This is what you get when you put a GENIUS on the job! I told you not to underestimate me!”

“Whoo! You go, Professor!”

“I said it before, and I’ll say it again—you wear a shit-eating grin like nobody else can, Professor!”

“Ha-ha! Praise me more!”

Having made good on her promise to destroy the bandits’ hideout, Cranberry puffed up her little chest as far as it would go with the smuggest expression imaginable. As she did, her coworkers gathered around and celebrated her talents by lavishing her with compliments and applause. Even the soldiers got in on it, inquiring when Cranberry could start mass-producing Panjandrums.

As she basked in adoration, Cranberry boldly replied that she would make newer, even better Panjandrums by the dozens and forever change the face of war.

Ringo watched the situation rapidly reach the point of no return. Visions of the tricked-out Panjandrums that would no doubt soon come into being danced through her head as a painful realization finally struck her.

She really wasn’t cut out for this mentorship stuff.

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